Around 8 pm at Singhu on the Delhi-Haryana border, the chemical odour of teargas has been replaced by the winter breeze. Broken concrete barriers and empty shells strewn across GT Karnal Highway are a reminder of clashes between farmers and the police which took place earlier in the day. And while permission was eventually granted for farmers to move to Nirankari ground in Burari, most decided to stay put.
As temperatures dipped, hundreds of tractors could be seen lined up on either side of the highway here from Ambala, Mohali, Ludhiana, Amritsar and other parts of Punjab and Haryana; the tractors have now become “mini-homes”, equipped with ration and other paraphernalia needed for a long haul.
Most farmers had covered their vehicles with plastic sheets in case it rained. While some set up mattresses and blankets on the tractors itself, others lay a bedsheet on the road or underneath the vehicles.
“If it was about comfort, we would have stayed home. We can sleep on the road, the divider or the footpath if needed. But we will stay here. We are helping each other in terms of food and other essentials,” said Harpreet, a farmer from Ludhiana.
Nearby, makeshift kitchens were set up to serve food to anyone who needed it. Farmers seen protesting during the day were now peeling onions, kneading flour and making dal. The protesters carried small cylinders, portable water filters and kettles. Volunteers from Delhi’s gurdwaras also came forward to distribute meals.
Protesters also carried boxes of medicines for anyone in need.
As the night set in, Manjeet Singh said goodbye to his six-year-old son on the phone, back home in Firozpur. Many vehicles had been fitted with sockets to charge phones. “It’s his birthday two days later and he wanted to have a celebration. I don’t know when I will see him next but my family understands,” he said.
At Tikri, which also saw protests, farmers sat for a meal on mats under the watchful eye of security personnel. While 50 vehicles had left for Nirankari ground, most stayed back.
Said a senior police officer: “There are more than 250 tractors on the other side of the border. Only a fraction of these entered the city. Others will rest here.”
During the day, the area had seen protesters breaking through barricades and removing roadblocks using their trucks and tractors. Police retaliated with water cannons and teargas shelling. Police said a few farmers who resorted to stone-pelting were detained.
Said Jagtar Singh, 35, one of the protesters, said, “We have not eaten properly for two days. The Haryana police mistreated us. In Delhi, locals have shut their shops and police doused us with water cannons. They are treating us like animals. Why put barbed wires on the road? We need to rest now and might leave for Nirankari late at night or tomorrow.” Next to him was Brijesh Singh, 70, who said he won’t leave Delhi unless their demands are met. “All we want is a fair price on what we grow,” he said.
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